I begin playing trumpet at age 12 while in the 6th grade. We were living in Houston, Texas and there was a strong school band program there. In fact, there was so much interest at Memorial Junior High School in 1965 that there was 7 periods of band, three directors and at least 5 beginner bands! My family and I moved back to our home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1966 and I attended Broadmoor Junior High School. The band program was not nearly as popular in this school but being smaller each student got much more attention and instruction. I had the typical interest of a young teenager in playing trumpet and would just as soon sit out of band practice and tell jokes.
Then came the move to senior high school in the summer of 1969. The band director at Broadmoor High School was a legend and gave up several weeks of vacation each summer to train the incoming freshman and let us know what was expected of us in high school band. The band director’s name was Lee J. Fortier. He was a former trumpet player with the Woody Herman Band and had started jazz stage band programs with high schools in the south Louisiana area. Well in short, my whole concept of what music, trumpet and band were about was radically changed. The enthusiasm of this man was infectious! Pretty soon I was taking private trumpet lessons at Louisiana State University. At first, I studied with graduate students and then progressed to study with professor George Foss (a former student of the late great trumpet player William Vacchiano). Pretty soon I was playing in the stage band (jazz big band), marching band and symphonic band. I tried out and played 2nd trumpet in the Baton Rouge Youth Symphony.
After graduation from high school I attended college and majored in music, but soon decided to go into the U.S. Marine Corps Band Program. After boot camp (basic training) the USMC sent me to the U.S. Navy School of Music located at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Virginia. This was a six month school of intensive training in music theory, with trumpet lessons, band practice, jazz band practice and hours and hours of intense trumpet practice. I got to play with and meet musicians from the Army, Navy and Marines. All in all, it was the toughest education I have ever had before or since! The school was tough and the consequences of not graduating was pretty severe...one got sent to a rifle platoon! The very thought of that sent me to the practice room! I graduated in July, 1975 and was posted to the Second Marine Division Band. There I learned a lot about professionalism, that is, how to play and keep on playing your best despite hardship. It doesn’t matter how you feel you just play and give it you all. One might grumble, fuss, cuss and fume but you just did the job in an outstanding manner.
In the Marines we played all over the country. Once we played for King Olav of Norway at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. This concert was for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the immigration of Norwegians to the United States. We would typically play 8 to 15 hours per day. Once, I remember the band playing for 90 days like that without a single day off! Wow but were we ever busy!
In September, 1978 I was discharged from active service from the Marines and decided to go back to college. I attended Georgia State University and in 3 short years had my Bachelor of Science degree and a year and a half later my Master of Education Degree in Counseling.
I tried for a time while I was in college to play in a community jazz band but the demands of school were just too much. So I put the trumpets away from 1980 until 1996. In the fall of 1996, I was approached by our church choir director and asked to sing in the choir. I told her that I thought she should play me not to sing. She laughed and she wanted me to try. My wife Catherine got involved and told her I had played trumpet. Soon I found myself assigned to play a solo in front of the church for Christmas! I hadn’t played in 16 years!!
Back home I picked up my Bach Strad case and opened it to fine the same beauty that I remembered from High School and the old friend from the USMC. I oiled the valves and placed the mouthpiece in the receiver. Putting the trumpet to my lips I worried that nothing would come out. I was wrong. I started by playing the C scale two octaves. Then I played a few hymns, so far so good. About 30 minutes later I was worn out and my lips were shot. I started taking the trumpet to work and arriving there about an hour early so I could practice. I also practiced at home. I discovered an e-mail web group known as the Trumpet Players International Network through a chance e-mail meeting with Al Lilly, a professional trumpet player and doctoral candidate in music. Through them and their unselfish help and assistance I got over many of the bumps in the road of comeback trumpet playing.
The solo that Christmas of 1996 went well. In 1998, I got hooked up with our community Jazz Ensemble and the Concert Band. Playing is a hobby now and I feel the richer for it in my soul.
Suggestions for comeback trumpet players:
1. Use only so much pressure as is necessary to seal the mouthpiece to the lips.
2. Keep the corners of the lips tight and relax the center of the lips.
3. I like to use the lip buzzing recommended by Rafael Mendez in his book “Prelude to Brass Playing”.
4. Practice consistently in short 15 to 20 minute sessions with frequent rest periods. I like to leave one of my trumpets out on a table so I can pick it up whenever I want and play. This avoids the hassle and wasted time of getting the horn out of the case each time I want to practice.
5. Vary what you practice, technical studies, then lyrical stuff. And most importantly play musically. Wear out the Arbans Method!
6. Most importantly, have fun!
Thomas G. Mungall
Baton Rouge, La.